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A tribute to… the Hail Mary

While the rules of American football do not explicitly mention the Hail Mary pass, it remains a thrilling aspect of the game. There’s little else that evokes the same anticipation, or suggests the same desperation, as these all-or-nothing, everything-on-the-line moments. In this first in an occasional series of off-season articles about some of the game’s much-loved but rarer plays, Sean Tyler explores the history of the Hail Mary in the NFL, outlines the tactics and techniques behind it, and revisits some of the greatest Hail Marys from years gone by.

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How it all began

Because it’s not part of the game’s official lexicon, the term wasn’t coined by a coach, owner or even a commentator. In footballing terms, the expression dates back to October 1922, when players from Notre Dame (a Catholic university) twice said a prayer in the huddle before plays against Georgia Tech – and scored touchdowns in both instances.

As for the NFL, the first recorded reference came several decades later from Roger Staubach, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback. In a divisional playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings in December 1975, with just 32 seconds on the clock and Dallas trailing by four, legendary Head Coach Tom Landry called for a long pass and Staubach launched one from the halfway line. The slightly underthrown ball was tipped by receiver Drew Pearson five yards shy of the paint but he somehow trapped it between his arm and hip before taking it in for the winning score. Afterwards, Landry said “Our only hope was to throw it and hope for a miracle,” while Staubach – a devout Catholic – told reporters, “I just closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.” The term appeared in several newspaper headlines the following day and has been part of NFL folklore ever since.

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Mindset and mechanics

The prayer in question (“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”) eludes to summoning help from the powers that be to successfully make a long, low-probability, chuck-it-and-hope throw. Usually attempted when a team is too far from the end zone to try something more conventional, the term implies that it would take a miracle for the play to succeed – which is why we love it when it does. That success relies on several factors coming together in the perfect storm: the strength and technique of the quarterback, whether there’s enough time for the receiver(s) to get downfield, whether the opposing team can defend it and, in most cases, a massive slice of good fortune.

So how do you shift the odds in your favour? Well, according to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, you practice. During his three years as an understudy to Brett Favre, he performed countless reps. “I got used to what it felt like, height and distance wise,” he told ESPN in a great article in 2019. “I’ve always been a little nerdy about that – watching the ball, seeing where it would land, remembering what that throw felt like. Was it all out? Was it 90 percent? Was it 80 percent? And just kind of locking those things away.”

As for Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who has both a college and an NFL Hail Mary to his name, time is also crucial. “Can you find time in the pocket or can you escape the pocket and step up? By the time you run around a little bit, the receiver is in the end zone where you want them. It helps if you can buy as much time as possible, let the receivers get underneath the ball as it comes down.” And the numbers bear that out. According to ESPN tracking, the average time before a Hail Mary is thrown is 4.75 seconds – almost twice as long as a normal play.

So what about trajectory? The throw must go high and far enough to reach the end zone but not go out of the back – that’s quite a tight window if you’re 50 yards or more away. Quarterbacks tend to pull their arms farther back than normal and Cousins tilts his shoulders, with the front shoulder up and back shoulder down. “That will put the arc on it,” he confirms. “You want the ball coming down at the receivers. You don’t want a driven ball.”

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A RARE TREAT: Due to the degree of difficulty, most attempts aren’t completed. In fact, there have only been 34 successful Hail Marys in the professional game since Staubach’s effort nearly 50 years ago.

All hail King Rodgers

While the Hail Mary is often seen as a last-ditch effort, some players have developed a reputation for launching long, accurate passes in clutch moments. Since Staubach, there have been several successful proponents of the Hail Mary. And where better to start than with the best of the best, Aaron Rodgers, who (thanks to all that practice) is the only quarterback with three successful NFL Hail Marys to his name.

One of the most famous of all time, christened the ‘Miracle in Motown’ by broadcaster Jim Nantz, came on the final play of a Thursday night game in December 2015 against the Packers’ NFC North rivals, the Detroit Lions. Because of a face mask penalty on the previous play, Green Bay – who’d been trailing most of the game – were given an extra play with no time on the clock. After the snap, Rodgers broke left to buy time while his receivers rushed downfield. Then he scrambled to the right to evade pressure and hurled a howitzer from his own 35-yard line. It dropped inside the end zone, where it was caught by the 6’4” Richard Rodgers II in front of a gaggle of Detroit players. (The tight end also caught a 67-yarder from Carson Wentz as a Philadelphia Eagle in 2020.)

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The Rodgers-to-Rodgers connection, which brought a dramatic 27-23 victory, is still the longest Hail Mary touchdown in NFL history. According to estimations at the time, the ball travelled 69 yards and almost hit the rafters at Ford Field. Breaking it down afterwards, then-HC Mike McCarthy said: “When you throw it with that arc, it gives guys a chance to fight for position. And Richard is the perfect guy for that type of situation, with his ability to go up and high-point the football.”

Having won the NFL Play of the Year Award for the 2015 season for that one, Rodgers threw another just weeks later. This time, Green Bay were facing the Arizona Cardinals in the 2015 NFC Divisional Playoff game. Down by seven and with seconds remaining, Rodgers heaved another desperation pass into the end zone while Marcus Golden and others rushed to close him down. This time, the ball was caught by receiver Jeff Janis and the 41-yard reception sent the game into overtime (although the Cardinals ultimately prevailed).

Rodgers, the unofficial yet undisputed ‘King of the Hail Mary’, then uncorked a third the following year – again in the postseason. In the NFC Wild Card Game against the New York Giants, he let it fly from the 53-yard-line with the last play of the first half and Randall Cobb took the catch at the back of the end zone. Rodgers’ three career Hail Marys, which came during a span of just 13 months, travelled a combined 172 yards.

Talking on Pat McAfee’s show years later, Rodgers raised another interesting factor: the inability of defensive players to read the flight of the ball. “I think it just comes down to the way you throw it,” he said. “If you take out the Jeff Janis one, the other two I was trying to get to a clean spot and throw it as high as possible. On both of those, I think there was a misjudgement by a majority of the players as to where the ball was going to come down.”

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A LONG SHOT… IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD: According to ESPN Stats and Information, only 9.7% of the 193 attempts from 2009 to 2019 were completed.

Double trouble: Dalton and Couch

Looking back through the annals of NFL history, there have been several other notable exponents of the Hail Mary. In particular, a couple of QBs from the AFC North have managed the feat twice (as has Russell Wilson, and we’ll come to him shortly).

In a 2013 battle with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens were leading 17-10 when, on the last play, Cincy’s Andy Dalton launched a 51-yard lob to the end zone on a 4th-and-15. The ball was deflected twice, once by each team, and while everyone else fell to the deck, the ball fell to AJ Green for a touchdown that forced overtime. The same pair teamed up three years later against the Browns, when the Red Rifle found Green with a 52-yard moonshot with seconds left in the first half. Again, there was some juggling and bobbling before Green pulled it into his chest for a 31-17 Bengals win.

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Staying in the division, in October 1999, the Cleveland Browns secured their first win as a returning expansion team with a Hail Mary against the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Tim Couch avoided the pass rush and launched a 56-yard bomb that was tipped, then caught, by receiver Kevin Johnson. Three years later, Couch repeated the feat against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when his 50-yarder to a tightly covered Quincy Morgan (and the ensuing extra point) secured a 21-20 win. Couch remains the only player to win two NFL games on game-ending Hail Marys.

Before we move on from the Browns, we ought to mention another so-called ‘miracle’: The Miracle at the Met. This refers to Cleveland’s epic game at the Vikings’ old Metropolitan Stadium in December 1980, in which Minnesota came back from a 23-9 deficit to snatch victory in the last five minutes. The Vikes closed to within a point and, after forcing the Browns to punt, were left with 14 seconds, with the ball at their own 20. A crafty lateral pass (more of them another time) set up a 39-yard gain, leaving 41 yards still to go and just five seconds on the clock. NBC broadcaster Len Dawson predicted, “They’re gonna throw that ball up in the air and hope for a miracle” … and he wasn’t wrong. Three receivers lined up on the right and all ran go routes to the end zone, while Tommy Kramer (456 yards, 4 TDs) dropped back and heaved the ball into the crowd scene. A Browns defender tipped the ball but Ahmad Rashad caught it, with one hand, on the 1-yard line and took it in backwards for the score that sealed the NFC Central division title for Minnesota.

When Hail Marys become Fail Marys…

The original ‘Fail Mary’, as it became known, is a misnomer; it was actually a successful play. It occurred in 2012, during a contractual dispute with referees and umpires, when a replacement crew dominated the headlines in the Packers’ Monday night clash with the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a last-second attempt on a 4th-and-10 to Golden Tate, who was surrounded by three defenders in the end zone. Tate pushed one of them away without drawing a flag (hold that thought) but both he and MD Jennings gripped the ball with both hands as they fell to the ground. One referee signalled for a touchdown while another called it an INT. A replay confirmed the score, which resulted in a controversial 14-12 Seattle victory.

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That play is one of several that confirm the benefits of defensive players knocking the ball away – preferably down – rather that trying to intercept it but even that can go wrong. On the final play of a 2010 game in Jacksonville, Texans safety Glover Quin tried to knock down a David Garrard pass intended for Mike Sims-Walker with a double-handed, volleyball-style swat. Alas, it went straight into the hands of Jags receiver Mike Thomas, who brought the ball under control and stepped into the end zone for the winning score.

The Tate TD also highlights the fact that players on both sides are essentially immune from pass-interference flags on a Hail Mary, largely because the NFL doesn’t want a game to be decided on a penalty. Most attempts turn into rugby scrums and no one seems to bat an eyelid. The other dilemma facing defensive coaches is whether to take your chances at the line of scrimmage and send in the pass rush or pull more bodies back to defend the ball down the field. That’s a case of pick your own poison and there’s no right answer.

HOT AND COLD STREAKS: There have been three seasons (2012, 2015 and 2016) with three successful Hail Marys each, while only one was completed between 2003 and 2009.

… and Oh Hell Marys

Because it’s such a high-risk, high-reward play, a Hail Mary can go spectacularly awry and I don’t mean the ‘it didn’t quite work’ kind of wrong; I mean ‘handing the other team seven points’ wrong. Indeed, that happened just three months ago, in Week 12 of the 2023 season, in what might be one of the most ‘Jets’ plays ever.

Trailing 10-6 with the first half all but over, New York Jets QB Tim Boyle unleashed a ball 57 yards through the air. Alas, it went straight to Miami Dolphins safety Jevon Holland on the 1-yard line, and he ran it back for the first Hail Mary returned for a touchdown since ESPN began tracking them in 2006. Starting from the back-left of the field, he ended up at the opposite corner, having run for 124 yards. Picking up critical blocks from Christian Wilkins, Bradley Chubb and Jerome Baker along the way, he left the Jets players sprawling in his wake as he completed his incredible 99-yard pick six.

Despite going on to lose 34-13, Jets running back Breece Hall had no beef with the decision to try a Hail Mary. “It makes perfect sense to me,” he said. “You get the ball at the 50, you throw it at the end zone. When you stop thinking like that, that’s when you’re passive, and I don’t want to be a part of a passive offense. I’m happy we went for it.”

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THE LATEST (SUCCESSFUL) HAIL MARY: In Week 2 of the 2023 season, the Washington Commanders fought back from 21-3 down to lead the Denver Broncos 35–27. With three seconds remaining, Russell Wilson heaved a pass from midfield that was deflected twice before Brandon Johnson caught the TD, giving the QB his second career Hail Mary completion. Alas, Denver failed to convert the ensuing two-point conversion so it was all in vain.

A personal favourite: the Hail Murray

With 35 Hail Marys in the NFL record books, it’s impossible to summarise them all here. But before we finish, let’s revisit one more corker that wasn’t scripted. It was a play that unravelled and the quarterback in question just had to wing it.

The so-called ‘Hail Murray’ occurred when the Cardinals hosted the Buffalo Bills in November 2020. Down 30-26 with 11 seconds remaining and with no timeouts left, the intended target Andy Isabella – running a crossing route – couldn’t get open on a 1st-and-10. The diminutive Kyler Murray evaded a would-be sack from Mario Addison but with two Bills lineman barrelling towards him, it was clear that the play was breaking down, there was nowhere for him to scramble to and time was ebbing away. He was left with no other choice but to hurl it 43 yards downfield and hope for the best. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the only Arizona player to reach the end zone, somehow climbed the ladder and caught the ball, his hands rising through those of Jordan Poyer, Tre’Davious White and Micah Hyde to seal a stunning 32-30 comeback victory.

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Here’s just a taste of how that amazing moment, which won the NFL Play of the Year Award, was described by the radio announcers who cover the Cardinals on KVMP FM. (The fact that it’s nearly all in capitals tells you everything…)

Dave Pasch: “Murray back to throw, flushed out, rolling left in trouble, slips a tackle, gotta launch it, he does, left side, into the end zone, jump ball, and it is… is it caught?! Is it caught?! OH MY GOODNESS, IT’S CAUGHT! DEANDRE HOPKINS CAUGHT IT! HE CAUGHT IT FOR A TOUCHDOWN! WITH ONE SECOND LEFT! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! YOU’VE GOTTA BE JOKING ME! HOPKINS… REACHES UP WITH THREE DEFENDERS AROUND HIM AND PULLS IT IN! THE CARDINALS LEAD 32-30 WITH A SECOND LEFT!”


Wow. Goosebumps.

Long live the long throw

Since Staubach’s post-game comment half a century ago, the Hail Mary has (somewhat fittingly) come a long way. It is now less of a desperate call for divine intervention and more often a deliberate, strategic play that a cannon-armed quarterback can pull out of the bag when needed. It embodies everything we love about football: skill and strength for sure, but also unpredictability, hope and a little bit of luck.

So, please join me in raising a glass to the Hail Mary: a rare beast, but far from endangered. Rather, it has become an integral part of the NFL’s rich tapestry and, as these examples hopefully illustrate, brought us some of the most dramatic and celebrated moments in league history. That’s why I’m certain that, as long as there are a few seconds on the clock, half a field still to gain and a result hanging in the balance, the Hail Mary will continue to captivate NFL fans.

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Takeaways as a disastrous third quarter all but ends the Broncos’ playoff hopes

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Denver were so close to finally making the playoffs, all they had to do was win their final three games, all against backups and all against AFC teams with losing records. 

After the loss to Detroit, Sean Payton’s team had to be flawless if they were to make the postseason, unfortunately, they fell at the first hurdle and an old nemesis, the New England Patriots sealed the Broncos’ fate. 

Here are my takeaways as the Broncos’ playoff hopes came grinding to a halt in primetime.

Reality Check

Perhaps this result was a message from the football gods, a reality check to remind Broncos fans of the reality of this roster, in truth it just simply isn’t good enough yet to make the playoffs, they showed us that earlier in the season.

Despite a rejuvenation that showed there is hope for the future, when it gets to crunch time this team still lacks the pieces to get themselves over the line and show they’re a proper playoff unit. 

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There are reasons for Broncos country to be optimistic for the future, and for nine weeks Sean Payton and Vance Joseph had the team riding a wave, unfortunately, the playoff train is over. 

Third quarter woes

The Broncos went into halftime winning seven to three, it was a lacklustre offensive first half but the defence kept an underwhelming New England offence in check. 

It seemed like the recipe for success was just for the Broncos’ offence to move the ball on one or two drives early in the second half and they could get over the line.

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In reality, the opposite happened and a disastrous third-quarter showing took the Broncos from a probable playoff team to middling mediocrity.

Bailey Zappe did well navigating the soft Broncos pass rush climbing up in the pocket on a couple of drives that resulted in Ezekiel Elliott and Mike Gesicki touchdowns to give the Patriots a 17-7 lead before Marvin Mims fumbled the kickoff into the oncoming Patriots who carried it in for another score putting the Patriots up 23-7. 

A snowball of errors paired with some questionable playcalling and poor quarterback play saw the Broncos fall too far behind the Patriots to mount a comeback. 

Some good high-tempo offence and more explosive playcalling saw the Broncos march down the field twice in quick succession to draw level, but in the end, the Patriots managed to get into field goal range and put the game away for good.

Offensive play calling

It wasn’t until those two drives in the fourth quarter when the Broncos were backed into a corner that the gameplan shifted from running between the tackles on first down, outside on second down, then a long developing route concept on third down, before Riley Dixon stepped on to punt on fourth down. 

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Sean Payton deserves a lot of credit for how he’s changed the culture of this group and they’ve come a long way from where they were under Nathaniel Hackett last season. 

Nonetheless, in the last few weeks the offensive play calling has been questionable and when the opposition stops the run Payton seems to be reluctant to call any high-tempo offence or any explosive offence that threatens to take the top off of the opposition’s defence.

Whether that’s because he doesn’t trust his quarterback or whether he just trusts indefinitely in his offensive scheme is up for debate but somewhere, the playcalling needs to change and become less predictable. 

Offseason movement?

Now the Broncos don’t have to think about the post-season, they can start to look to the offseason beyond and think about who will move on the roster. 

The biggest questions come on the offensive side of the ball, what happens at quarterback? Are there any more offensive line additions? Where do they look in the draft? 

The future of Russell Wilson is in question, his contract is so big but this offseason is the cheapest ‘out’ they will have across the entire extension he was given in 2022. 

There’s a very real possibility that George Paton (if he’s still there), takes the dead cap hit for 2024 and looks to the draft for a rookie to sit behind an affordable veteran for a year or two. 

It was announced on Wednesday that Wilson would be benched in place of Jarrett Stidham for the final two weeks of the season, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Wilson’s fate is sealed and some journalists have speculated that the front office is just protecting themselves against a $37 million that Wilson would get guaranteed if he got injured. 

Whoever is the general manager next season has a dilemma to make at the quarterback position as well as with underwhelming receiver Jerry Jeudy (who attracted trade interest earlier in the season) and centre Lloyd Cushenberry III who will be hitting free agency in the offseason but will command a sizeable fee if his services are to be retained.

Week 17 preview

On Sunday it will be Stidham who takes the field against the Chargers with the Broncos’ playoff hopes hanging by a thread. 

Two weeks ago the Broncos brushed the Chargers aside 24-7, since that game both teams have lost two games in a row and the Chargers moved on from head coach Brandon Staley. 

It will be a game between backups as the Chargers will continue to field Easton Stick under centre while Stidham will take the snaps after Wilson’s benching. 

The Chargers will be hoping to not be swept by the Broncos for the first time since 2019, whilst the Broncos are looking to keep their playoff hopes alive in week 18 and chase a first winning season since 2016.

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Takeaways as the Broncos make it four wins in a row after SNF victory over the Vikings

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The win streak keeps rolling, the Denver Broncos are back at “.500” and in the thick of it in the AFC playoff picture for the first time in a long time. 

It wasn’t always pretty on Sunday night in primetime but despite all the Joshua Dobbs love from the broadcast team on NBC, Sean Payton and his team got it done late at home to move to 5-5, and here is what I took away from the game.

Four wins in a row 

Winning is infectious and it has spread amongst the Broncos’ ranks quickly since they beat the Green Bay Packers five weeks ago

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After big-time victories over the cream of the crop in the AFC in the last couple of seasons, the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos came out on top against the red-hot Vikings to move to a four-game win streak (the longest active streak in the NFL). 

The positive signs began long before this run but finally, Payton and his coaching staff have managed to piece together a winning formula, the Broncos have got momentum and no one wants to play this team right now. 

Defence with more turnovers 

During the ongoing win streak, the defence has totalled 13 takeaways, and despite taking three in this game they will be annoyed with themselves that they hadn’t snagged more. 

The secondary was electric and besides their potential turnovers, they also hustled and battled on every down making it tough for Dobbs and his receiving corps. 

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In particular, Justin Simmons shone and broke up two key passes on the Vikings’ final drive of the game to seal a win for the Broncos. 

It’s hard to believe that this is the same defence that took the field in weeks two and three giving up 35 points to the Washington Commanders and 70 to the Miami Dolphins respectively. 

Nonetheless, the change at cornerback with Ja’quan McMillian coming in for Essang Bassey has completely changed this defence’s outlook and as long as the undrafted rookie can maintain his form (a team-tied most takeaways) then the Broncos will always be in the mix, down the stretch.

Playmakers coming up big in key moments

When you look at the Broncos’ roster they don’t have many names that you would regard as league-wide stars, besides perhaps Russell Wilson and Patrick Surtain II. 

However, any fan of the Broncos will tell you there is still underappreciated talent on the roster, whether it’s one of the best (if not the best) safeties in the league, Justin Simmons, or one of the league’s most promising running backs, Javonte Williams, the Broncos have talent. 

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The biggest breakout in this winning run however, has been Courtland Sutton, who made a name for himself in 2019 when he got selected for the Pro Bowl, before injuring his ACL in 2020. 

Sutton’s eight touchdown catches this season see him behind only MVP candidate, Tyreek Hill (nine TDs), in the league charts for caught touchdowns at wide receiver this season. 

Sutton has a receiving touchdown in the last five consecutive games and has become one of Russell Wilson’s favourite red zone targets, when the Broncos need him he comes up clutch in key moments, like catching the game-winner on Sunday night.

Run defence has to improve 

Despite the feel-good factor in Denver, it can’t all be rosy and there are still big hurdles that the Broncos need to overcome if they’re to be taken seriously in the AFC in the long term. 

That starts with defending the run, something the Broncos have struggled to do all season, and still plagues them despite the winning run. 

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One of the key factors to the 70 points that the Broncos gave up earlier in the season against the Dolphins was their poor defence of the run, giving up 350 rushing yards, it’s still an issue, eight weeks on, and the Broncos still get beaten up in the run game.

On Sunday, Ty Chandler looked like a young Austin Ekeler and Alexander Mattison looked like prime Dalvin Cook. 

If the Broncos are going to compete with some of the better teams in the league consistently they have to get better at defending the run.

Need to be more ruthless offensively

I spoke about it last week, and it proved to be a noticeable problem on Sunday night as well, the Broncos are not ruthless enough off of turnovers. 

This week the Broncos scored nine points off of the Vikings’ turnovers but it could have and should have been more. 

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Will Lutz scored 15 of the Broncos’ 21 points with his boot and the offence couldn’t capitalise off of the short field the defence had handed them. 

As with last week, this should have been a much more comprehensive victory and the offence needs to be ruthless if this team is to compete with the best of the best.

Week 12 preview 

The Broncos face another stern test at home on Sunday as they welcome the Cleveland Browns (7-3) to Empower Field at Mile High, looking to extend their winning streak.

The Browns have been one of the better teams in the AFC of late after an inconsistent start to the season but their star quarterback Deshaun Watson was ruled out for the season a week ago, meaning rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be under centre. 

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The Browns’ strength lies on the defensive side of the ball however, and they will prove to be the hardest test the Broncos have faced all season. 

The Browns have a top-five defence in the league and they have playmakers at every level of the defence. 

Myles Garrett is a potential MVP candidate, Sione Takitaki and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are excellent linebackers and Denzel Ward across from Greg Newsome II is one of the best cornerback duos in the league.

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Russell Wilson and the offence will have to be efficient and clinical whenever they get on the field, but the game feels like it will be won or lost on the defensive side of the ball for the Broncos. 

The Browns will be relying on their running attack of Kareem Hunt and Jerome Ford (after Nick Chubb got injured early in the season), and we spoke earlier about the Broncos’ plight against the run. 

If they can force Thompson-Robinson to try and beat them then the Broncos may just have a chance of getting a tiebreaker in the playoff race and toppling another AFC pillar in 2023.

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Bye Week Takeaways: Can the Broncos make a playoff push?

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No news is good news through the post-trade deadline bye week and the Broncos are still boasting that two-game win streak heading into week 10. 

Sean Payton’s team have the added benefit of playing their week 10 matchup against the  Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, giving them one of the longest possible in-season breaks. 

Payton said after the 24-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs that he had taken a leaf from Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s book and the players would be in for film study on Monday morning but then have the rest of the week off before getting prepared for the Bills matchup this week. 

So where do the Broncos go after their bye and do they have a shot at the playoffs? 

The first four games 

The Broncos opened up the Sean Payton era in a calamitous fashion, losing their first three games and seemingly eliminating themselves from any playoff discussions before their campaign had kicked off. 

In the opening two weeks, the Broncos lost by a point to the Las Vegas Raiders (their seventh in a row vs the Raiders) and lost on a failed two-point conversion after a miraculous hail mary attempt in week two at home to the Washington Commanders. 

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In week three, things got even worse, when the Broncos’ defence made history for all the wrong reasons. They gave up 70 points to the Miami Dolphins and allowed the most total yards of any team in the history of the NFL. 

Things continued to look bleak through the first three-quarters of week four in Chicago as well until the defence finally checked in for the season and produced two massive fourth-quarter turnovers to help the Broncos chalk up their first win of the season.

The losses to the Commanders and the Raiders (both at home) could come back to kick the Broncos as they now look to mount an unlikely, uphill charge for the playoffs. If those two games had gone in the favour of Denver – which they should have done on the balance of play – the Broncos would be 5-3 right now. 

Rebuilding next four-game 

Moving away from the hypothetical, and back to reality, the Broncos faced the near-impossible task of overturning their poor start around to give them some hope of resurrecting their season.

Up first was the Nathaniel Hackett New York Jets at Mile High stadium and a game that could have been a momentum shifter turned into a banana skin. The Broncos dropped to 1-4 after losing 31-21 thanks to a late defensive touchdown from the Jets made the game look worse than it was on the box score. 

Next up on a short week was a trip to Arrowhead Stadium, and despite the defence putting in an incredible performance, the offence went hiding and the Broncos’ streak against the Chiefs fell to 16 straight losses

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Despite the two losses being disappointing from an offensive standpoint the defence threw up positive signs and, finally, the two sides of the ball came together to generate the Broncos’ first home win of the year against a lacklustre Green Bay Packers outfit. 

The win against the Packers still felt like a consolation victory for the rest of the season, however, and the Broncos welcomed the Chiefs in week eight, with all the expectation being, another blowout to the rampant Cheifs. 

The reality for Broncos Country was so much sweeter than anyone could imagine, they blew the Super Bowl champions away and romped to a comprehensive 24-9 demolition of their AFC West rivals. 

Heading into the bye week the fanbase and media reaction to the Broncos changed completely and there was a breath of optimism that swept its way back into Denver.

Resurgent out of the bye 

Now sitting at 3-5 coming out of their midseason bye the Broncos have a clear road and clear goal ahead of them for the next nine weeks. 

It’s not going to be easy and there are plenty of challenging games ahead, none more so than this Monday at Buffalo.

With back-to-back primetime games, the Broncos could move back to .500 and with full momentum on their side against some more favourable opponents. The trade deadline has been and gone so every franchise knows “who they are” and the Broncos are a team on the incline. 

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After Buffalo, Payton’s team will welcome the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, before welcoming the Cleveland Browns and then making a trip to the Houston Texans. 

In an ideal world, four wins from four would be tremendous in that stretch, but even three from four getting victories over AFC playoff rivals the Browns as well as beating the Texans and the Vikings could see the Broncos at 6-6 going into five interesting games at the end of the year. 

Finishing strong

The final five games of the season throw up plenty of narratives no matter where the Broncos stand out of their four key games coming off the bye week. 

Firstly, a trip to Los Angeles to face their AFC West rivals, the Chargers, in a game that could have big playoff implications. Both teams could feasibly be heading into that game 6-6, both gunning for the seventh seed in the AFC. 

Next up is a difficult trip to one of the NFC’s best teams, the Detroit Lions who have only lost two games this season and beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead on the opening night. 

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Week 16, could potentially be a game with draft position implications if the Broncos can’t find any wins in the second half of the season. The New England Patriots will come to Mile High in what was once a fierce AFC Championship battle. The Patriots are in full rebuild mode and currently sit at 2-7, a record that could be even worse when this one rolls around. 

The penultimate week of the season is a rematch of week 14 with the reverse of the Chargers matchup this time in Denver. If the Broncos have any record in the region of 8-7 or better then Mile High could be bouncing for this one with giant playoff implications.

Games against the Raiders will bookend the Broncos’ season and the Broncos will have to go to Sin City to close out their year, they could finish their season with a flourish both making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 as well as snapping their losing streak against the Raiders as well. 

Record prediction 

With all of this being said, I may have foreseen a miraculous turnaround that sees the Broncos win eight or nine of their last nine games to finish the year 12-5 or 11-6. In reality, that seems unlikely and the best possible record I could see this Broncos team getting is 10-7, but my prediction would be either 8-9 or 9-8. 

Week 10 Preview

The Bills have been shaky this season and look far from the clinical and convincing outfit that they have been in recent years. 

Their offence has been struggling despite Josh Allen’s MVP level of play, the defence has been star players, Tre’Davious White and Matt Milano go onto Injury Reserve and there are holes in that team that this Broncos group can take advantage of.

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The Bills have the third-ranked total offence in the league in the first nine weeks of the season despite being 5-4. They’ve scored the third most passing TDs in the league this season (two more than the Broncos) and they rank seventh for rushing TDs. 

They haven’t looked convincing since their week four victory over the Miami Dolphins and their recent form has been inconsistent. 

However, with a talented quarterback and talent around him, the Bills are always a threat, especially at home.

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A week ago, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to include flag football – a safer and more inclusive version of our favourite sport – in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Other sports, including lacrosse and squash, were also added for the first time.

A game for all

As a non-contact sport played over two 20-minute halves, flag football is appealing and accessible to kids (sometimes in mixed teams) and women, as well as men, and not just in the United States. According to the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), the global governing body, around 20 million people in more than 100 countries play the game so on the face of it, it’s a viable Olympic event.

Participation rates are rising fast, and among girls in particular. Around 475,000 girls aged under 17 played last year, up 63% since 2019, and in fact, women are a key part of flag football’s growth. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), in partnership with the NFL, sanctioned flag football as an official varsity sport for female students in 2020 and girls’ high schools in California have just started their first season.

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As flag football is seen as the entry point to the sport, it’s currently got a bit of a recreational, collegiate and amateur reputation to overcome. But the semi-pro American Flag Football League will add a men’s professional division for the first time in 2024 and the American Flag Football League’s new Women’s Division has pay equity with the men. And we mustn’t forget, we have a few years before they need truly elite athletes capable of starring on a global stage.

Small squads, big fun

Another reason the IOC were more amenable to the flag/touch version of American football being part of LA28 is the small team sizes. Squads are made up of 12 players, with five on the field at any given time, which will help the IOC meet its own cap on the number of athletes at the Summer Games.

Like rugby sevens, it’s a fast, high-scoring style of the game. There are mainly quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs, so there are passes and catches and route-running as normal. But it’s also full of quick spins and sharp turns and cuts as the ball carrier tries to prevent their opponents from pulling the three fabric ‘flags’ from their belts.

Support from the NFL

The NFL has long backed flag football as a way to push the global appeal of the sport in general. And having it played at the Olympics in their own back yard – presumably at venues like SoFi Stadium, home to the Chargers and Rams – is a massive coup, not to mention a huge marketing opportunity. The NFL even changed the format of its annual Pro Bowl to include three seven-a-side flag football matches last year. At the time, San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey told ESPN: “I definitely don’t need to take more hits so I’m a proponent.” Given the inherent injury risks, you can understand the appeal of the touch version.

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USA Football, which oversees all formats of the sport in the United States, has been working on getting football into the Olympics since it was formed nearly 20 years ago. But its CEO, Scott Hallenbeck, believes that this wouldn’t be happening at all without the support of Roger Goodell and the owners of the 32 NFL franchises.

There will be men’s and women’s disciplines at the Summer Games in 2028, and the chances are, the best players from the national flag football teams will be involved. It was a demonstration sport at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, where the United States won men’s gold and Mexico defeated the hosts in the women’s final.  But Hallenbeck has also said he’s “extremely interested and excited” about the possibility of including NFL players on Olympic rosters.

All hail the US Dream Team

Sure, there are plenty of details to work out with the league and the NFL Players Association so it remains to be seen as to whether it’s going to be feasible. But surely the opportunity to represent their country presents a new opportunity for current NFL players – or even recently retired ones – who fancy striving for a new pinnacle of sporting achievement.

Imagine Team USA’s dream lineup if it were drawn purely from the ranks of the NFL today. Patrick Mahomes; Tyreek Hill; Justin Jefferson; Ja’Marr Chase; Christian McCaffrey; Travis Kelce; Aaron Donald; Nick Bosa; Myles Garrett; Micah Parsons; Patrick Surtain; Sauce Gardner. Or maybe the team taps into the stars of the collegiate game, or even the XFL?

Obviously, if the US Olympic men’s team included NFL players, then they’d romp home to gold without breaking sweat. Twitter is already full of people imagining Tyreek going nuclear while being marked by an Iranian bus driver. The possibilities are yet to be ironed out but Tyreek himself, as well as recently retired tight end Rob Gronkowski, have already thrown their hats into the ring and declared their interest.

Who’s coming second?

More likely, both men’s and women’s teams would comprise players who already specialise in flag football. But for a bit of fun, let’s just say the NFL Players Association get on board and the men’s teams are awash with today’s NFL stars. Who might stand alongside the USA during the medal ceremony? Here are a few contenders who might not give the host nation a run for their money but might compete for silver and bronze:


As well as being able to draw on additional players from the Canadian Football League, about 25 Canadian-born players currently ply their trade in the NFL. Team Canada could have a decent shot at silver if it could call on the likes of Miami’s Chase Claypool and Jevon Holland, the Chargers’ Josh Palmer and Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard.


Many a player born in Nigeria has made his way to the NFL. Africa’s powerhouse in the sport could make a surprise bid for a place on the medal rostrum if it employed the Lions’ Julian and Romeo Okwara, Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai, Jacksonville linebacker Foyesade Oloukun and Steelers OT Chukwuma Okorafor, not to mention the “three Davids”: Njoku (Browns), Ojabo (Ravens) and Onyemata (Saints).

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With some of them switching codes from rugby, the Aussies have about 10 NFL players at the moment. Admittedly, several – like the Seahawks’ Michael Dickson and the Niners’ Mitch Wishnowksy – are punters, so they might not be much use(!) but I reckon Baltimore’s Daniel Faalele and the Eagles’ Jordan Mailata would be hard to get past on a small field.


As seen by the introduction of International Series games in the country, the popularity of football in Germany is massive – and still growing. Imagine an Olympic tournament, held in the US, with noisy German fans getting behind their team of German-born players such as the St. Brown brothers, Amon-Ra (Lions) and Equanimeous (Bears). 

Even if they weren’t in the hunt of medals, would Cleveland’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fancy turning out for Ghana? Would we see the Chiefs’ George Karlaftis represent Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics? Could John Metchie swap his Texans jersey for Taiwan, or sack monster Danielle Hunter switch from the purple of Minnesota for the green and gold of his native Jamaica? And what about Efe Obada repping Team GB colours?

It’s all fanciful stuff for now but the bottom line is that the IOC’s decision to include flag football in the 2028 Olympics represents an unprecedented opportunity to grow the game globally. It’ll be a slow burn but I’ll be watching developments with interest.

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Takeaways from the Broncos’ week five loss to the Jets

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With so much riding on this game surrounding Sean Payton’s preseason comments and the comeback win last week, it felt like this was a game where the Broncos could really turn the tide of their season at home to a struggling Jets side. 

In reality, it was a watershed moment for all the wrong reasons and Broncos country is starting to feel that all-too-familiar disappointment once again before the leaves have even started to fall off the trees in autumn.

So here it is, four takeaways from the Broncos’ loss to the New York Jets.

Worst the offence has played this season 

In the opening four weeks a lot of blame was levelled at the defence, for good reason, however, this week, the offence took the reigns. 

The defence was getting stops in the first half and if it hadn’t been for a bad safety in the first quarter, the Broncos would have been in an even more dominant position heading into halftime.

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In the second half the offence completely fell apart, with four three-and-outs and a fumble culminating in minus eight total yards of offensive production in the second half until a 60-yard touchdown drive to make the score 24-21.

The defence managed to come up clutch late in the fourth quarter with an interception but once again the offence failed to fire and Russell Wilson fumbled the ball to Bryce Hall who iced the game, returning it for a touchdown.

The offensive woes were highlighted when the Broncos gained good field position from a special teams play from their own punt and two snaps later, the Jets regained possession due to a poorly executed end-around double pitch. 

Hopefully, it’s a blip and the offence will return to their levels from the first four weeks, if they hope to even lay a glove on the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football, they’ll have to.

Defence inconsistent again 

The defence carried their late-game momentum from last week into the opening stages of this game against the Jets.

In the first half, the defence held Zach Wilson and the Jets to 20 total yards of offence in the first quarter. 

In the second quarter, the Jets started to move the ball better but once again the Broncos’ defence held them to only three points.

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In the second half though, they couldn’t stop the Jets from moving the ball, particularly Breece Hall who notched 177 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The pass rush got home four times and Patrick Surtain II picked off Zach Wilson to give the Broncos the ball back with time running down to go ahead but the offence couldn’t capitalise. 

After the year the defence has had, Sunday was encouraging, however, the inconsistencies were still frustrating to see.

Payton ate his words 

Sean Payton’s comments about Nathaniel Hackett’s head coaching job in Denver last year are common knowledge now among anyone who follows the NFL.

On Sunday, Payton was made to eat those words, the loss doesn’t change the past but it certainly raises questions about how much of last season was on Hackett. 

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The offence has undoubtedly looked better under Payton than it did under Hackett but in general they still appear to be a poorly coached team. 

Is that hangover from the last regime? It’s unlikely because there are plenty of new faces in the building.

One thing is for certain, after the comments he made Payton made himself a target especially heading into this game, and it spectacularly backfired on him.

The fire sale has begun 

On Monday, NFL insider James Palmer suggested that a fire sale of Broncos talent may commence soon in light of the team’s 1-4 record. 

It’s no surprise that the team are looking to start a rebuild again and with the current salary cap situation and the lack of draft capital, it seems trading assets away is the only option. 

It’s highly unlikely that the Broncos will be worse than the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers this season, at the very least, so the number one overall pick and therefore Caleb Williams seems like a pipedream. 

Despite that, Russell Wilson’s play hasn’t been the reason the Broncos are 1-4 so would a quarterback really be the target? 

Albeit, the Broncos certainly have tradable pieces on offence and defence so if Payton and general manager George Paton believe that’s the way they want to go then they could definitely receive a lot of capital in return.

Week 6 TNF preview 

It doesn’t get any easier for the Broncos, next week, a trip to Arrowhead awaits to play the formidable Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. 

The Broncos have lost 15 straight against their AFC West rivals and the Chiefs have started the season hot, despite not being wholly convincing.

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The Chiefs sit at 4-1 and are on a four-game win streak after their loss to the Detroit Lions on the opening night of the season. 

The Broncos slipped to 1-4 and are once again gearing themselves up for a winter bereft of playoff football and more top-ten draft selection talk in springtime.

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Six Takeaways from the Broncos’ Humiliating Week Three Loss

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70 points. Only three teams in the history of the sport have ever put up 70 points in a game and that’s what happened to the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. It was a historic humiliation that shattered records for all the wrong reasons in Broncos Country. 

At the end of the game, the Miami Dolphins had the chance to beat the record and score a field goal to make it 73 points but former Broncos ball boy Mike McDaniel opted to kneel and close the game out, sinking the Broncos to an embarrassing loss and an 0-3 record. 

Here are my takeaways from the week three matchup in Florida. 

Russell Wilson is NOT the problem

The media and Twitter box score fans have been quick to jump back on their anti-Russell Wilson agenda this season, but the nine-time Pro Bowler is having a fine year in Denver. 

He’s proving his haters from last year very wrong, playing smart football and looking like a top-10 quarterback in the league in his opening three games of the season. 

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Wilson threw for 306 yards off of 23 completions which, for context, was only three yards fewer than Tua Tagovailoa from the same number of completions. 

He threw for one touchdown, and one interception, which wasn’t entirely Wilson’s fault anyway, as well as four big-time throws according to PFF. 

He is navigating the pocket well, sensing and escaping pressure much more often, and he seems to be seeing the field and making decisions much more assertively as well as backing his arm on the deep ball much more often.

It has been a positive start to the season for Wilson under the tutelage of Sean Payton and hopefully, he will soon be rewarded for his good play.

Receivers are building chemistry

Even without Tim Patrick for a second straight season, the Broncos have a tidy wide receiver room, on paper at least. 

Jerry Jeudy played for a second consecutive week and Courtland Sutton still appears to be one of Russell Wilson’s favourite targets, while rookie Marvin Mims is a genuine deep-threat target.

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Over the last two weeks, sophomore, Brandon Johnson has also been a pass catcher that Wilson can often lean upon to make a big catch when needed. 

When Greg Dulcich is elevated off of the injury reserve list, the Broncos’ air raid game will be something to behold if they can keep up their three-week momentum.

Special teams touchdown

Over the last couple of years, the Broncos have regularly had one of the league’s worst special teams units every year. 

On Sunday, Marvin Mims proved why the Broncos traded up to acquire him in the draft, returning a kickoff 99 yards to cut the deficit to a measly 43 points (at the time).

Coupled with his long punt return last week, Mims is proving to be the return man the Broncos have been hoping for, for years.

The defence…

When you concede 70, there’s only one place the heap of the blame can go. The defence consistently gave up big gashing run gains to Raheem Mostert and Devon Achane, who combined for six rushing touchdowns between them. 

The defence surrendered 726 yards to the Dolphins in total yards and when Randy Gregory was dropping into coverage against Tyreek Hill, and they were missing 24 tackles it’s hardly surprising. 

After losing to the Raiders in week one, they lost only putting up 10 points in week two, and after last week’s 35-33 loss to the Commanders, Washington only scored a field goal this week and Sam Howell threw four interceptions. 

The Broncos’ defence is a shadow of its 2022 self under Ejiro Evero and despite a largely similar personnel, the change in co-ordinator and scheme hasn’t been effective.

The numbers are staggering and the film is alarming, when looking at this Broncos defence, Vance Joseph is on the hottest seat in the league. 

During the week, Sean Payton has said that there won’t be any firings this week so Joseph has a chance to prove he’s the man for the job on the road in Chicago which is a must-win game.


The Dolphins scored 21 points off of turnovers on Sunday and two of those came from the hands of Courtland Sutton. 

Sutton posted 8 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown but he could have had so much more had he protected the ball better in the open field. 

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Twice he was looking for yards after the catch and twice, Jevon Holland came across and punched the ball out giving Miami a good starting field position. 

Had those 21 points from the turnovers been converted to Broncos points then it may have been more of a tight shootout than the game became.

Officials (again)

Like last week, the officials didn’t cost the Broncos this game, which lies firmly at the doorstep of the defence, however, early in the game they made a questionable call which halted early Broncos offensive momentum.

In the first quarter, the Broncos managed to hang around with the Dolphins and would have gone within a score of their hosts if their touchdown to Sutton had stood. 

Instead, the officials decided to step in and throw a tenuous offensive pass interference call that meant the Broncos had to settle for a field goal on that drive.

It was by no means a game-changing call but once again the officiating levels of the NFL come under the spotlight.

Looking ahead to week four 

The Broncos have entered must-win territory if they have any plans of making the post-season in January, but even more so when their week four opponent is the Chicago Bears.

The Bears have been the worst team in the league so far this season with a faltering offence and a leaky defence. 

Third-year quarterback, Justin Fields has struggled to process defences and the offensive playcalling hasn’t utilised his strengths, while the offensive line has failed to protect him anywhere near enough.

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These two defences gave up 111 points on Sunday so both offences will be licking their lips and trying to lay down a comprehensive marker to get in the win column for the first time this year. 

After their struggles in the ground game against the Dolphins, Justin Fields’ rushing ability is a concern but the offensive form partnered with the Bears’ poor defensive form is a positive sign heading into a huge week four matchup for both teams.

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Takeaways from the Broncos’ Week One Loss

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Sean Payton literally kicked his tenure for the Denver Broncos off in eye-catching fashion, opting to go for an onside kick on the Broncos’ opening kickoff of the game on Sunday night. 

Despite the ball ending up in the Las Vegas Raiders’ hands anyway due to an illegal touching penalty, Payton laid down a marker early against a division rival. 

The first half followed a similar trend, while the second half failed to ever get going with mistakes by both teams often extending drives in agonising fashion.

With that said, here are seven key takeaways, both positive and negative, heading forward. 

  1. Russell Wilson’s first half 

Russell Wilson’s performance levels heading into this season were a big talking point, and if his week one performance levels are anything to go off of then he’s getting back to his old ways under Payton’s reign. Wilson managed 17/19 for 125 yards and two passing touchdowns in the first half. In the second he threw for only 52 yards off of 15 attempts completing 10 passes. It wasn’t the flashiest of games but a promising performance to kick off 2023 after his 2022 showing.

  1. Running back duo 

After the Broncos’ offseason additions it was clear Payton would be bringing a run-first approach to the offence, two blocking tight ends made the 53-man roster and the offensive line was bolstered. To backup up their gameplan Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine had a good day on the ground, both consistently picking up yardage on their rushing attempts without ever truly breaking out a huge run. Once they can get undrafted rookie Jaleel McGlaughlin involved consistently they could become one of the league’s more under-the-radar rushing attacks.

  1. General offensive performance in the first half 

Somewhat a combination of the first two points, the general offensive improvements from last year’s levels were pleasing to see for Broncos fans. On the contrary, it was noticeable that the Broncos only went deep on one play in the entire game, a trend that was perhaps highlighted due to Jerry Jeudy’s absence this week.

Greg Dulcich’s curtailed afternoon also impacted the passing game in the second half, lacking a dynamic vertical threat like the second-year Cal, tight end. One would hope that as Jeudy and Dulcich regain their fitness, Payton will be able to mix in their run attack while sprinkling more explosive passing downs into their drives.

  1. Damarri Mathis targeted 

Unfortunately, there were negatives to discuss as well, and ironically, they came on defence, something not too familiar to Broncos fans in recent years. While the offence was efficient and relatively effective, the defence couldn’t get off the field. Garoppolo was able to dissect Vance Joseph’s coverages comfortably and in particular, he targeted second-year cornerback, Damarri Mathis who struggled to contain Jakobi Myers.

Myers scored two touchdowns on the day and while Patrick Surtain II and Essang Bassey contained Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow respectively, Myers was often found in open space registering nine catches for 81 yards. After a promising training camp, the Broncos will be hoping to see Mathis bounce back in week two when he’ll be given the challenge of covering the Washington Commanders’ Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson.

  1. Sterns injury

After the optimism of the onside kick came the agony of an injury for the Broncos. On the opening drive of the game, Joseph’s defence lost one of its best training camp performers in safety Caden Sterns. Sterns was looking to have a breakout season in his third year out of Texas but will now have to endure rehab on his season-ending knee injury instead. 

  1. Pass rush lacking

Perhaps the most alarming takeaway from Sunday’s loss was the lack of pressure that the Broncos managed to generate from their front seven. Despite blitzing the Raiders on 31% of their dropbacks (12th in the league) they only pressured Jimmy Garoppolo on 13.8% of his dropbacks (the lowest in the league), the next lowest was Jordan Love who was pressured on 20% of dropbacks against the Chicago Bears.

The numbers are as alarming as the film looks, none of the front seven consistently beat their opposing lineman and they struggled to ever get to Garoppolo. Going forward, Joseph will have to figure out a way to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, with the likes of the Bills, Dolphins, Chargers and Chiefs on their schedule later this season. 

  1. Lutz misses

Finally, Will Lutz’s misses on both an extra point and field goal, inevitably costing the Broncos the game has to be discussed. Extra points should be automatic for kickers in the NFL and a missed field goal from 55 yards stings when the final score was 17-16 to a division rival in your own house sinking your head-to-head against the Raiders to 7 straight losses. Hopefully, being a veteran, Lutz will be able to put the misses behind him and come back stronger to make some crucial kicks later in the year.

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PICK SIX – Week 1

Welcome to our new series where two of the Full 10 Yards crew, Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler, pick six (see what we’ve done there?!) talking points from the previous week’s slate to highlight and dissect. And with Week 1 of the new season now in the books, let’s jump straight in!

Drop three, pick six

Well, wouldn’t you just know it? Our opening talking point from the first game of the season – the Thursday night curtain-raiser between the upstart Lions and the defending champion Chiefs – was inspired by a pick six from Lions rookie safety Brian Branch. I don’t want to do Detroit a disservice – it was a great play and the Lions deserved the W – but it soon became apparent that the Chiefs were missing TE Travis Kelce (knee injury), not least because of the offensive weapons it left Patrick Mahomes with.

Skyy Moore dropped two targets, rookie wideout Rashee Rice dropped one and even RB Jerick McKinnon joined the party, but the major culprit was Kadarius Toney, with three drops. The butter-fingered receiver’s worst miss was in the third quarter when the ball ricocheted off his hands to Branch, who ran it back for a 50-yard score to tie the game at 14-14. Later in the quarter, Toney dropped a third down pass, forcing Kansas City to settle for a field goal, and his final whoopsy, with 2:25 remaining and the Chiefs trailing by one, saw a slingshot come through his grasp and away. A catch would have set up a game-winning FG try.

After the 21-20 loss, Toney deleted his Twitter/X account to avoid the inevitable flak for his ‘zero net gain’ stat line (one catch for 1 receiving yard, one carry for -1 rushing yards). Despite his 29.7 PFF grade, the lowest given to a receiver since 2018, his QB still had his back. Mahomes said of Toney “I have trust that he is going to be the guy that I go to in those crucial moments.” Let’s see if that’s true next week. [ST]

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Bang, bang, bang for your buck

When we talk about players celebrating a hat-trick, the focus is usually centered on someone on the offensive side of the ball. The Atlanta Falcons, however, relied on a star performance from their marquee summer acquisition to spark them to a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Jessie Bates III, take a bow.

Fresh from an eye-popping four-year, $64 million deal in free agency, Bates wasted little time in starting to repay some of the faith his new team has placed upon him. He twice picked off rookie quarterback Bryce Young. 

The first was a classic interception from a safety. Watching the eyes of the quarterback and closing quickly on the ball, Bates beat former Falcon Hayden Hurst to the ball as he was crossing over the middle. It set the Falcons up in the red zone and four plays later, they had the lead. The second was almost a carbon copy. With a crossing route from the right-hand side of the Panthers formation, Bates again jumped the route beating Terrance Marshall to the ball. This time, it led to a field goal.

The trifecta was capped off on the next Panthers possession. Miles Sanders had seemingly ripped off a nice chunk of yardage only for Bates to punch the ball out and be credited with a forced fumble. The Falcons would recover and score a touchdown on the ensuing drive. One game, three turnovers and 17 points from those turnovers. Not a bad debut at all, sir! [SB]

**STOP PRESS** On Monday Night Football last night, the New York Jets went one better. Safety Jordan Whitehead played lights out, picking off the Bills’ Josh Allen THREE times as the Jets squeaked out a 22-16 OT win. What with that, a game-winning 65-yard punt return TD by rookie Xavier Gipson and Aaron Rodgers’ Achilles injury after just four plays, it’s a shame all five Hard Knocks episodes are now in the can.

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Tua and Tyreek rewrite records

Other than my own Bengals, the game that most intrigued me this week was the Dolphins vs the Chargers: two AFC teams with high hopes underpinned by notes of fragility and under-achievement. It turned out to be an absolute barnstormer, with Miami prevailing in a wild, come-from-behind 36-34 win, thanks in no small way to the lethal combo of Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill.

The Chargers played their part for sure but there’s no disgrace in coming up short against a Dolphins team intent on winning a shootout (their 16 explosive plays were the most by any team since 2014). In his first appearance since a Week 17 concussion, Tua silenced his doubters to the tune of 28 completions for 466 yards and 3 TDs. Two of those tuddies went to Hill – including a clutch game-winner with 1:45 left on the clock – as he amassed a staggering 215 yards from just 11 receptions. 

Rewriting the Super Bowl-era record books, Hill now has three games of 200+ yards and 2+ receiving TDs – a new NFL high – while Tua’s 466 yards were the most ever against the Chargers and the third-highest of any QB in Week 1. 

Ever-humble HC Mike McDaniel summed it all up afterwards by saying “That’s kind of what I expected to happen with the work that he (Tua) has done.” I feel “expected” may be a tad rich but Miami’s QB has certainly laid down a gauntlet to the rest of the league. [ST]

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Riddle me this

Welcome back Calvin Ridley! An almost-forgotten move due to its timing was the shrewd business the Jaguars pulled off by acquiring the former Falcons receiver. Fresh off his return from suspension following gambling misdemeanours, Ridley picked up right where he left off. 

He led the Jags in targets (11), receptions (8) and yards (101) along with a trip to pay dirt. It had been a whopping 686 days between regular season games for the receiver but he showed all of his class with some crisp route running and his elusiveness, tacking on plenty of yards after the catch.

The Jags as a whole stuttered to a win over what many presume will be a Colts team in rebuild mode. The offensive line had some issues and the run game was pedestrian at best. Maybe they should just let Trevor Lawrence air it out more? A great stat from Next Gen Stats summed it up perfectly: “Trevor Lawrence’s 18-yard TD pass to Zay Jones was one of three completions of 20+ air yards on the day. On passes over 10 air yards, Lawrence finished 8 of 11 for 147 yards and 2 TDs (+27.8% completion percentage over expected).”

Expect the Jags to get better as the season progresses. [SB]

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Dawgs unleashed

It has been a relatively quiet off season in Cleveland. After years of headline making for different reasons in years gone by, the Browns have fallen under the radar somewhat. In a division that has seen two star quarterbacks re-signed and resetting the market in the process, many tip Cleveland to occupy the AFC North cellar once again. Ja’Marr Chase may have lit the touchpaper ahead of kick-off with some ill-advised comments but Jim Schwartz and his unit served up a huge dose of humble pie to not just Chase, but to the entire Bengals offense.

The Browns brought the heat to Joe Burrow all day. The tone was set on the first play of the game with Za’Darius Smith getting his hands on the quarterback. The Browns would go on to record 10 QB hits and four tackles for loss, and were credited with two sacks. The second of those inevitably came from Myles Garrett who, along with his mates up front, had a field day against a sloppy Cincy offense.

Increased pressure up front was backed up by stellar play in the secondary. Tee Higgins was held to zero catches from eight targets. Their longest completed pass of the day went for just 12 yards to Chase, on the Bengals’ opening drive. That was on a third down play, and the Bengals would only complete one more third down from 14 attempts the rest of the way. Despite his fiery words, Chase couldn’t back it up and was held to a lacklustre 39 yards.

There is plenty for the Browns to sort out on offense but defensively, this was an unbelievably brilliant start to the campaign. [SB]

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Giants belittled by Cowboys D

At first glance, a 40-point win against the Giants in Sunday’s late game suggests that the Cowboys offense was cooking. Sure, Tony Pollard rushed well (82 yards, 2 TDs) but Dak Prescott completed just 13 of 24 passes for 143 yards and no TDs. So be in no doubt, the 40-0 drubbing of their divisional rivals was all about special teams and defense. Admittedly, Big Blue’s offense isn’t all that but take nothing away from Dallas DC Dan Quinn, who engineered the largest shutout win in franchise history.

His charges had Giants QB Daniel Jones under the cosh all night. They sacked him seven times, with Dorance Armstrong and Osa Odighizuwa bagging two each. Micah Parsons also got one to stall New York’s opening drive and that set the tone for the rest of the evening, with seven different Dallas players also posting tackles for loss. Brian Daboll’s team also coughed up three turnovers, including a blocked FG returned 58 yards for six by CB Noah Igbinoghene. Dallas led the league with 33 takeaways last season and carried on in a similar vein, with DaRon Bland’s 22-yard interception return TD giving the Cowboys a 16-0 lead in the first quarter (even though their offense had completed just one drive). Even Stephon Gilmore got an interception in his first outing in Cowboys colours.

As Parsons said after the game, “I think we made the statement that I’ve been trying to make: we’re the best defense in the NFL.” It’s only Week 1 and there’s a long way to go but so far, we’ve seen nothing to suggest that he’s wrong. [ST]

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What I’ll Be Watching In The Saints Preseason Opener

Finally, we have Saints football to watch as the Saints open the preseason against the defending SuperBowl champion Chiefs. Yes, it’s the pre-season but there is still plenty we can take from the action. These are the 5 things ill be keenly watching this Sunday. 

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How Does The First String Offense Look

Dennis Allen has already confirmed that we will see the starters on Sunday Vs the Chiefs, Jeff Duncan from, tweeted that he’s hearing the starters will play around 15 snaps. 

Jeff Duncan on Twitter: “Sounds like the plan is for the Saints’ starters to play about 15 snaps in the preseason opener vs. K.C. on Sunday, with the 2s getting roughly 25 snaps and the 3s finishing out the game.” / X

That means we get to see Derek Carr for the first time in a Saints jersey and would be nice to see an efficient and effective display (similar to Winston against the Jags last pre-season). We should also see Mike Thomas back in game action, Thomas hasn’t been his usual dominant self so far in camp, game action against CBs other than Marshon Lattimore will be a good gauge of where Thomas is at. It goes without saying the ceiling of this team is a lot higher if Thomas is on form, if not I do have concerns about the depth at WR.

Part of the starting offense should be LT Trevor Penning another player who lifts the ceiling of this team considerably. He’s had two significant foot injuries one on each foot meaning he missed a lot of his rookie season. Time on task is the order of the off-season for Penning as mental reps will only get him so far. It sounds like the Chiefs will also play their starters to begin the game, so should be a good test for Penning, especially in pass protection which so far, he requires more work on compared to his already dominant run blocking. 

Along with Penning the overall play of the starting O-line is really something to monitor, the reports from camp are that the D-line has dominated, this game should give us some idea of if the D-line is just that good or the O-line is something we should be concerned about.

Finally, Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara have both had dominant training camps per reports, Olave has gained weight to be stronger in contested catch situations and Kamara has a new trainer who has reportedly brought back his infamous burst, again would be nice to see these results in a game.

The CB2 battle

Entering the off-season, I expected this battle to already be over, after Alontae Taylor’s impressive rookie season and Paulson Adebo’s sophomore slump the CB2 spot looked to be Taylor’s to lose. So far in camp, Taylor looks to have done just that, Adebo a camp star a year ago has again been excellent and Taylor has started slow, but has improved in recent practices, but overall Adebo is ahead.

Game action is important in this battle as Adebo is notoriously physical in practice which means at times he wins reps in a dominant fashion which makes him standout. Without refs present it’s hard to tell if his physicality is just enough or a bit too much. If, as the pre-season goes along Adebo is walking the line to closing leading to flags that would change the complexion of this battle in Taylor’s favour. Sunday is the start of a long road ahead to decide who CB2 opposite Marshon Lattimore will be.

The Backup Safety Battle

The top of the depth chart is set with Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye and special teams star J.T. Gray. Behind them, 5th-round rookie Jordan Howden seems to be locked in too. Howden has received first-team reps at both Safety spots when Mathieu and Maye have been absent and has also been the first-choice DIME DB throughout the summer.

That makes 4, leaving most likely 2, maybe 3 roster spots up for grabs, the amount the Saints keep will depend on A). how they plan to run their special teams this year (i.e. more LBs or more DBs) and B). if Marcus Maye ends up being suspended.

Leaving, Lonnie Johnson Jr., Jonathan Abram, Ugo Amadi and Smoke Monday to fight for those spots and all three have had bright moments in camp. All 4 should feature on special teams and all 4 bring very different skill sets. I had Johnson Jr and Amadi making the initial 53 in my most recent projection (link to that here to see my reasons

However, since I wrote this Monday has been on a tear. So it’s really turning into one of the most interesting and unpredictable positions groups on the team, where it’s likely only game action will be able to give us a clearer picture. With Mathieu and Maye both getting up there in age and both with only 2 years left on their deals, it doesn’t hurt to have one eye on the future here too to see if the Saints may have a succession plan for one or both already on the roster.

The New Look D-Line

The Saints drafted Bryan Bresee and Isiah Foskey with their first two picks in this year’s draft and added Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders in FA but that’s the only reason I’ve labelled the D-line as ‘new look’. 

Mike Triplett wrote an article for explaining that HC Dennis Allen alongside new D-line coach Todd Grantham wanted to defensive front to be more attacking and aggressive. DA has also commented that he thinks they had gone a little overboard with their weight expectations, meaning that players met with Matt Rhea the Saints Director of sports science to work out the player’s ideal playing weight with many players losing around 8 lbs.

This means the D-line should have more burst and athleticism whilst still being a bigger line than most. Of the new faces, I am most excited to see first-round pick Bryan Bresee, who by all accounts has transitioned well so far to the NFL world. He’s got an ELITE first step which I think is going to produce some wow plays this season, Sunday against possibly 3rd/4th string lineman? look out!

Finally, are Granderson and Turner for real? both have had really good camps so far, Granderson especially. Similar to my question earlier regarding the O-line is this true growth at a position the Saints really need or is this a product of poor O-line play?

Quick Hitters

LB Depth- Has Baun finally developed? (although we’ve been fooled by his preseason play before) who’s ahead? Nephi Sewell or D’Marco Jackson? as the man backup behind Demarion Davis and Pete Werner.

Jake Haener – One of ‘My Guys’ leading up to the draft has been excellent in camp so far, does that continue in-game action? this might be the most excited I’ve been to watch 3/4th stringers because of solely Haener.

Kendre Miller– I think a lot of people on the national stage are going to be talking about him once they see him play.

Who the hell is WR5/6??– I thought this might finally have been the year Tre’Quan Smith was knocked off the roster, that doesn’t appear to be the case and Smith seems locked in as the WR4 but who is going to grab the bull by the horns and take the last 1 or 2 spots? prime candidates, A.T. Perry, Keith Kirkwood, Bryan Edwards and James Washington.

Is Jimmy Graham making this team?- It sounds like Graham could have a specialised role on this team (RedZone, 3rd downs etc…) but as a 36-year-old TE who didn’t play last season is not usually a recipe for success.

People kicking the ball- There is an open competition at both Kicker and Punter with both of the vets currently out in front but will game action change that? or further cement their lead?

Who’s returning kicks?- With Rashid Shaheed injured, do the Saints have anyone who could earn a roster spot as a returner?

i think ill leave my ramblings there, as you can probably tell I’m way excited about this preseason game.

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